Millennium Post

Rough Air: Airplane crashes that changed the game

M Most of the times in order to judge the potential talents of someone, like a sportsperson, the idiom ‘Sky is the limit’ is used. But there are tragedies that sometimes take place in life that puts a cruel twist on the aforementioned adage. On a number of occasions, airplane crashes have snuffed out many a promising sports talent from this world. 

Even as recently as November 2016, an aircraft carrying Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team crashed in Colombia after it ran out of fuel. 71 people were confirmed dead out the 81 doomed souls travelling in that plane. Almost the whole soccer team which was on its way to play the Copa Sudamericana final was wiped out in an instant with just two survivors remaining to pass on the tale of the horrifying plane crash to future generations. 

Airplane crashes have shattered dreams, ambitions, hopes and lives of once promising talents, with the survivors and the kin of the deceased never quite coming to terms with the monumental loss. In this article, let’s go back in time, through memories of smashed debris and broken bodies to take a look at some of the most devastating air crashes involving sports personalities, the silent sound of which has echoed through generations.

Torino Football Club (1949): On May 4, a plane carrying the Torino club players slammed into a mountain peak outside Turin leading to the death of 22 members. The team which was regarded as one of the best in its era was no more. The tragedy rocked Italy and the psychological effect that was felt would carry on for generations to come. 

Manchester United (1958): One of the most infamous as well as one of the most tragic airplane crashes happened on February 6 when a plane carrying players from Manchester United football team crashed while it was taking off in Munich airport. The plane had landed there to refill and once the refueling was complete, the pilots tried and aborted two takeoff attempts because of some difficulties with the engine amid worsening weather conditions. 

By the time the pilots made a third attempt to take off, it had begun to snow, which caused a layer of slush to form at the end of the runway. On the third attempt, the pilot got the plane moving, but when it hit that layer of slush, the plane lost a ton of speed, which meant that it would not be able to take off. Instead, the plane skidded through the slush and barreled through a fence at the end of the runway. 

A wing was sheared off when it hit a house and the plane crashed. Also known as the Munich air disaster, the tragedy killed 23 people, out of which 8 were team members. The team, under the stewardship of Matt Busby, had won league titles in 1956 and 1957 with a young squad. The average age of the players was 24, earning them the nickname ‘the Busby Babes.’ The crash played a pivotal role in cementing Manchester United’s status, as the club rebounded and re-emerged as a dominant force in English soccer. 

Hansie Cronje (2002): Hansie Cronje, the disgraced former South African cricket captain, who was banned from the game for life after a match-fixing scandal, was killed in a plane crash near his home in the country’s Western Cape province. Cronje, one of three people who died when the light cargo aircraft on which he had hitched a lift crashed in bad weather into the Outeniqua mountains, near the town of George. He was just 32 at the time of his death. He had died at a time when the cricketing world was torn apart due to betting scandals. Cronje had admitted that he had accepted bribes for fixing international cricket matches and many people feel that the plane crash was the part of a larger conspiracy to kill the South African cricketer.

University of Evansville basketball team (1977): On December 13, the University of Evansville men’s basketball team boarded a plane bound for Nashville for their next game but unfortunately tragedy struck and the plane crashed after losing control. Almost everyone on the flight lost their lives.

Zambian national football team (1993): In 1993, the Zambian football team consisted of players with a plethora of potential. They were even favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations and were on their way to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. But fate dealt a cruel blow to their dreams and ambitions. On their way to Senegal to play a qualifier, the left engine of the plane they were travelling in, caught fire. The pilot accidentally then turned off the right engine as well which caused the plane to lose all its power and it crashed killing everyone on board. 

Pakhtakor FC (1979): The Uzbek football club were on their way to play Dinamo Minsk when disaster struck. During the course of the flight, the plane carrying the players collided with another plane mid-air over Ukraine. The collision resulted in the loss of 178 lives including 17 members of the football club.

Czechoslovakian ice hockey team (1948): On November 18, the flight carrying Czechoslovakian ice hockey players crashed in France leading to the loss of 6 lives.

Puerto Rico women’s National volleyball team (1970): After playing a friendly game against the Dominican Republic in order to prepare for the Central American and Caribbean Games, the Puerto Rico women’s volleyball team boarded a flight home. Shortly after take-off, the plane crashed into the Caribbean Sea, killing everyone on board.

Cuba National fencing team (1976): After winning all the medals at the Pan American games in Venezuela, 24 members of Cuba’s national fencing team were returning home. Shortly after take-off from Barbados’ Seawell Airport, two time bombs located in the rear near the bathroom, and in the middle of the passenger cabin, exploded. 

The first bomb destroyed the plane’s control cables and the second ripped a hole in the aircraft and started a fire. The rapid descent, along with the presence of hundreds of tourists on the beaches below, led the crew to decide to forgo their original plans o turn back and attempt a water landing. But it was not to be as all 73 people on board the doomed flight perished. Four men were ultimately arrested, with only two doing significant time – though there have been theories that the CIA and FBI were at least aware, if not complicit in the attack, with intriguing evidence to support the claim.

Old Christians Club (1972): In 1972, an Uruguayan rugby club was travelling from Uruguay to Chile to play a friendly game. The plane carrying 45 passengers crashed in Andes Mountains which killed quite a few passengers while the several more who had survived the crash fell victim to the biting cold conditions and lost their lives. 27 remained alive when suddenly an avalanche came and wiped off 8 of them. Eventually, two of the survivors volunteered to trek out to find a way off the mountains and to bring back help. Freezing, starving, and with rescue efforts halted, the survivors remaining at the crash site were forced to resort to cannibalising the remains of the dead to survive.

For more than two months, fourteen people survived on the mountainside. The two boys, who had ventured out, were finally able to get off the mountain and find help. On December 23, 1972, rescuers found the remaining survivors.
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